What they didn’t teach us about our periods

I’ve already told you how woefully inadequate I consider the British education system to be, on account of the fact that I can tell you a hell of a lot about the structure of a triangle but had to self-teach myself the basics of how to be a functioning adult. I won’t harp on about that. Today I want to talk more specifically about ‘sexual education’ in England. Even
more specifically, I want to talk about our periods and what we’re not taught in schools.

I can remember my first ever experience with sexual education vividly. And not because the whole thing was so enlightening and left me feeling confident and proud of my body that I was glowing when I left the classroom. Oh no. I remember walking home with the permission slip, so that our parents could confirm whether or not we were allowed to be taught about our own anatomies. I remember the giggles as the girls and boys got separated into two completely different rooms. I remember being utterly confused because sex wasn’t even mentioned once. So ‘sex education’ seemed quite the misnomer. And I suppose that’s my first issue with how we’re educated about our periods. Before you shout at me, I can understand the logistics of it. I know that there is a direct scientific link between periods, sex and pregnancy. But I’m still not happy about the two being lumped together when we’re taught about them.

Let me explain myself. From the moment we are introduced to a half-formed concept of sex as children, we are taught to be ashamed of it. We’re taught that it’s something dirty that should not be talked about. Through putting periods into the same bracket, children are subconsciously taught that menstruation is just as shameful. This is only then reinforced through the permission slips, suggesting that it’s an adult matter that should not be discussed by young people, and through the separation of the sexes into different classrooms. It’s all one big period-shaming mess. So, as far as I can tell, we need to seriously work on having a more sex-positive society (but let’s be honest, a lot of the population would go insane at that prospect) or we need to separate the two topics a little. We need to stop calling it “sex education” when it’s actually more like “learning about your own bloody body”. Maybe don’t use that language in front of children though. Hey, I don’t have all of the answers.

Getting past that initial naming issue, I (obviously) have some major grievances with the lessons themselves. Essentially, I’m angry about all of the stuff that we don’t learn. All of the stuff that, unless like me you’ve spent a huge amount of time researching online and in books, you might not even know now. And I can’t blame you for that. Be prepared for me to start getting pretty arsey about the whole thing, right about now

When I cast my mind back to Year 6, sitting with a teacher talking in hushed tonnes about how to deal with the blood, I know for certain that we were given two options – pads or tampons. In year 7 and year 8 and year 9 (I believe that by year 10 we were considered as knowing everything there was to know) we were given two options – pads or tampons. In fact, I distinctly remember being given a box of branded samples. Like, ‘hi young impressionable females, if you want to be normal, you have to use Always!” And the fact of the matter is: These aren’t the only options! If like me you’ve managed to acquire a greater education online than you ever did in the classroom, you’ll know that schools/the media/the government are doing a mighty good job of keeping more healthy, sustainable and just generally badass sanitary options under wraps. 

Today I ordered a Mooncup. I feel a little bit giddy with excitement. I also feel proud that, despite all of the forces working against me, I’ve decided to ditch the tampons and pads. Don’t get me wrong, they’ve done their jobs kind of okay for the past 5 years, but let me hit you with some cold hard facts that you definitely didn’t hear in your sex education lessons. Bleach is often used to achieve the bright white colour that you see in sanitary products. Imagine that. Bleach. Near/in your actual vagina. As if that wasn’t enough to make you squirm, a tonne of studies also emphasizes that women using synthetic pads are much more likely to contract fungal infections. You know when you feel like you vagina just can’t breath on your period? Yeah, that. As well as all of that health nastiness, the fact remains that tampons and pads are not environmentally friendly in the slightest. In particular the ‘feel dry’ top coat in most pads is completely non-biodegradable. With women getting through an average of 16,800 of the things in a lifetime, and 1 having the environmental equivalent to 4 plastic bags, it’s not hard to see that these kind of disposable sanitary products are not a viable option. Which is why I’ve gone all hippy on you and ordered a Mooncup (in the US they’re usually called DivaCups). They’re made of medical grade silicone which, unlike bleach and those other carcinogenic chemicals, is safe for inside your body. Plus, when looked after they can last for up to ten years! That definitely beats the 4 hour limit of a tampon. With all that in mind, I can’t understand why they’re not used, or at least tried, by all women. 

Well, I sort of can understand actually. I think the reason is two fold. For one thing, women grow up learning that there are only two options when it comes to periods. Menstrual cups and reusable pads are not even mentioned. There’s a lack of quality education regarding how to best handle your cycle. Secondly, women are taught to be squeamish when it comes to their period, something which I believe is also a result of an inadequate teaching system. Therefore, the idea of coming into even more direct contact with menstrual blood can freak some people out. We need to tell girls that they are normal; that their blood is normal. We need to make girls feel comfortable talking to us about which sanitary products are best suited to them. Much like the talks on birth control that are given in schools, we need to talk honestly about the pros and cons of all sanitary products. We just need a healthy does of period positivist, basically. 

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